In September 2012, my husband started a job as a captain with Qatar Airways, and we moved our family to Doha, Qatar for the next four years. Qatar is the small, thumb-shaped country sticking out into the Arabian Gulf, sharing its only border with Saudi Arabia. It is a fascinating country, made up of mostly sand, rock, a few outlying towns, and Doha. The climate is pleasantly hot from November to April; uncomfortably hot from May to October. It rains a few times; on occasion, (and as I write) it blows sandstorms of biblical proportions.
Qatar has been exploiting its oil and natural gas reserves since the 1940s. It is the richest per capita country in the world. These resources fund the Emir’s vision to produce a swept-up venue for the 2022 World Cup, and following that, a thriving business and travel hub. The country’s extreme wealth has produced a land of breath-taking contrast, from stunning architecture and burgeoning further education establishments, to tangles of road works and construction sites. These are populated by millions of migrant workers from Asia toiling in hot, sandy conditions. The government recruits the engineering and business expertise from developed countries, and the labour force from developing countries. People flood in from all over the world, looking for work in construction, banking, oil and aviation. Qataris make up only 20% of the population. Having risen from nomadic subsistence to wealth in 5 decades, they now prefer to employ people to work for them
A Muslim country, Qatar is peaceful and tolerant of the plethora of visiting cultures and religions. Foreign women are expected to follow a modest dress code, but we do not have to cover our heads. A smile and a greeting in Arabic engender the utmost of appreciation from the locals. Qatari women are encouraged to access a wealth of higher education and have been able to vote and drive since 1999. Driving in Doha is like in all big cities – the roads are overcrowded, and you have to look out for maniacs all the time. It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush!
SLTs are like hen’s teeth over here- especially native English-speaking ones. Once my family was settled, it was not long before word of mouth began to spread, and enquiries came trickling in. I ran a private SLT practice from my home in Northern Ireland, built around the needs of my 3 busy teenage daughters, so I decided to work in Doha on a very low-key, independent basis. The government allows ex-pat women to work under their husband’s sponsorship, or a company can employ them. I am only interested in being self-employed, so I cannot comment on the employment set-up. To run a business over here requires having a Qatari partner who owns 51% of the enterprise. I work as a ‘locally employed teacher’ under my husband’s sponsorship (basically he carries the can if I commit an offence!)
There are SLTs who work in nurseries and schools, and those, like me, who choose to see clients in their homes. I am in discussions with my children’s school, Doha British School, about sub-contracting to them one day a week. This school, like many others in Doha, is privately owned. The population in Qatar has grown exponentially over the last 2 years. The demand for places at the better-respected international schools greatly exceeds capacity, especially at the preschool and primary end. Many schools turn down children whose language skills are weak. Parents of children with difficulties of any sort struggle to find places at any school, let alone a good one. There is little funding (from school owners, rather than the government) for special needs provision, which is variable and scant. I have met many people who have been on the edge of despair trying to find a school place for their child. Many have no option but to teach their children at home, and search for a good SLT to support them.
The speech and language therapy needs of the English-speaking expat population are, on the whole, similar to those at home. Two issues influencing speech and language in Doha are the ‘maid culture’ and bilingualism. It is the norm for Qataris, and many ex-pats, to hire a maid/nanny who lives with their employing family. (It is common for Qataris have one maid per child). Many mothers work; an equal number stay at home. The normal expectation over here is, ‘pay someone to do it for you’. Some of the children I see spend large amounts of time with Philipina or Indian maids, most of whom speak pidgin English/Arabic. Parents have come to me, wanting me to fix their child’s speech, some wanting me to work away while they are out. The main focus of my therapy has always been to empower the parents, usually the mother. Now I find that Parent-Child Interaction (PCI) has become one of the biggest aspects of my therapy. Even if there is no maid on the scene, I meet parents who have little or no idea how to play/use appropriate language. I try to devise therapy plans that are simple and manageable within the daily routine, because I am realistic that anything more complex/time consuming will simply not be done. The Mums really appreciate having somebody to guide and support them. Schools welcome visits and liaison with teachers via e-mail. It is normal to find that parents will not/cannot remove their child from school in order to attend speech therapy – the same as in the UK.
Bilingualism is a fascinating issue – one I need to learn more about. Most of my children’s friends speak two or more languages fluently. English is very widely spoken by most nationalities. Of course, there are many hundreds of young children around Doha learning several languages with no problems at all. It is one of the main questions I am asked once people hear I am a SLT – ‘how to get it right?’ I try to give the best advice I can, from what I have researched over the months. I need to become better informed, for example – ‘to code switch or not?’ I try to dish out basic common sense, like – make sure there is consistency of language use, and that the language model the child hears is a strong one – and here, we’re back to the maid teaching the child poor English/Arabic.
Working in Doha is absolutely what one makes of it. There are many pros and cons to living and working in this Qatar; there are different contexts available, and it is possible to dictate one’s own terms. I am really enjoying the way I work, as I am getting the best out of both my professional and family life.
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